When was the last time you worked with a manager and said, “that person is a great leader”? Early in my career, I can honestly say I learned more about what kind of leader I didn’t want to be rather than the kind I do want to be. Unfortunately, I found myself learning and practicing management traits of those poor leaders. It wasn’t until someone cared about me enough to tell me “you’re a prick to people at times” that I realized I needed to do something about it.


Needless to say, it wasn’t the first time in my life I had heard that statement, but I had never heard it from someone I respected. This gentleman modeled what it means to be a truly great leader, and I respected him because of his leadership. We don’t agree on everything, but we do agree on core leadership principles.


Over the years, I have consulted many stores and have to say that I have yet to see great leadership initially. I remember a line in the movie “Remember the Titans”: “Attitude reflects leadership.” If your business isn’t doing what you think it should, then you should probably look in the mirror. The speed of the team is the speed of the coach. When you look at any great team or business, leadership is the key to their success. We all have heard “it’s all about people” and that saying will ring true forever.


You can beat yourself up and make excuses for your people by saying, “they learned it from me; it’s not their fault.” But now it’s time to get over it and do something about it. I hear people say they need better people, processes, inventory, traffic, advertising strategies, etc. and it might be true. You may need all of those things, but without great leadership none of those things will create a business model with any longevity.


Now that we’ve talked about some of the problems we have, let’s talk about some solutions. Don’t hire or promote people to do a job unless you are committed to training them how to do that job. It is criminal to put someone in a position to fail. Why do we have one of the highest turnover rates of any business in the country? Do you really think its because all of those people are unqualified or incapable of doing the job? No! It’s because we don’t prepare people to be successful. Think about it for a minute. We hire a salesman because he interviews well, then we sit him in front of a TV watching videos for 2 days on how to sell a car and then 3 days on product knowledge and tests. Then we spend a couple of hours on how to fill out paperwork, turn him loose and then say, “Go out there and get’er done.” Is that really preparing the person to be successful? The real irony is that if the person we did that to happens to be successful, we promote him to management and say, “Alright – get these guys going and sell some cars!”


In our industry the number of dealerships that actually train their managers to be great managers is very slim. You have a multi-million dollar business, and the only people who have any real training on how to do their job is the office manager (who more than likely has a college degree) and the service technicians. But the least trained people in the company are customer-facing employees that you depend on, not only for your business but also your long-term reputation.


We need to wake up!!! We can’t simply rely on the walk-in customers anymore. You have to have skilled salespeople and managers in order to have any type of success today. Your people have to love what they do, love the game, be proficient at it, and play for keeps. Managers need to learn how to manage people individually. No longer can you berate people and M-F them in order to get the desired behavior or result. I’m not saying to coddle them or not hold them accountable, but it is possible to hold people accountable without belittling them or browbeating them; you just have to change your approach.


In order to have any success in the new automotive industry, we must be more scientific about how we manage our business, and that should start with our people. People are not thick-skinned like we were growing up in the business. We have more generations in the work place today than ever before, and each one of those generations has to be managed differently. If you’re not profiling people before you hire them, you can expect to have a lot of turnover and generally unproductive people. There are tools out there today to help ensure the success of people, tools that teach how to manage people on an individual level so they can be the most productive.


Over the last couple of years I have read a lot of articles about how to increase business and profit, but nobody is talking about the most important thing when it comes to increasing your business and profit: PEOPLE. If you really want to make a difference in your dealership, begin training your people everyday and in daily one-on-ones. Take the time and invest in their future. The return on investment will be greater than you ever imagined.

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